Comic Robin Williams’ Death Puts Spotlight on Depression, Suicide

Published in Pawtucket Times, August 15, 2014

Last Monday evening, millions of Americans were shocked to hear that 63-year- old Robin Williams died from an apparent suicide. While it was well-known that he had a history of severe depression and years of alcohol and drug addiction, we were stunned by the unexpected tragic news. publically, Williams had it all, fame, fortune, loyal friends, and fans in every corner of the globe. But like millions of Americans he suffered in silence trying to slay his personal demons when he went into substance abuse treatment.

The sudden death of this Oscar-winning actor, recognized as America’s comic genius, squarely puts the spotlight on depression, a mental illness that commonly afflicts tens of millions of Americans.

DDepression Becomes a Public Conversation

Within the first 48 hours of Williams’ suicide The Samaritans of Rhode Island saw an increase in calls from people concerned about loved ones and friends, says Executive Director Denise Panichas, who expects to also see an increase in visits to her Pawtucket-based nonprofit’s website. Last year, its website received more than 50,000 visitors.

Panichas says, “William’s death reinforces the fact that suicide knows no boundaries, it being a relentless demon afflicting both rich or poor, and those having access to therapy or medical care and those not having it.

According to the Woonsocket resident, William’s suicide has raised the awareness of suicide prevention in a way that millions of dollars in public health announcements could never have done. “William’s movies as well as his dedication to community service resonate with multiple generations, says Panichas, stressing that his six plus decades had value “which will live on.”

Williams substance abuse problems also highlights the need for more awareness as to how addictions can be a risk factor for depression and suicide, states Panichas, who observes that throughout the country, in ever city and town, budgets for substance abuse treatment are being decimated, she adds.

“Promoting wellness and preventing addictions will always be a big challenge but we must do more if we want to see a decrease in suicides,” says Panichas.

Panichas expects the death of Williams, an internationally acclaimed movie star, will have an impact on fundraising for suicide prevention or addiction and depression prevention programs. She has seen an increase in donations from Rhode Islanders as well as from around the country. .

“One donor gave a donation in memory of “Mork”. The donations coming in may be small but every one counts toward keeping our programs available to the public,” says Panichas, noting that over the years public funding has “been drying up.” The Samaritans of RI is using more creative fundraising structures, like crowdfunding (www.crowdrise.com/samaritansri2014) and other social venture sites to create new revenue streams for her nonprofit, she adds.

An Illness That Can Affect Anyone

Lisa B. Shea, MD, Medical Director of Providence-based Butler Hospital, Providence, learned of William’s suicide by a CNN alert on her IPhone. To the board- certified psychiatrist who serves as a clinical associate professor at Brown University’s Alpbert Medical School, “it was tragic but preventable.”

Shea, a practicing psychiatrist for 20 years, notes that people who have suicidal thoughts, like Williams, are struggling with mental health disorders. “Their thinking can get very dark and narrow and they believe they have no options,” she says, oftentimes feeling like a burden to others. “It does not matter who you are mental illness can strike any one regardless of their wealth and fame,” she says.

According to Shea, the public’s interest in William’s tragic death sheds light on the fact that people can get help and it begins with taking a positive first step. “People with suicidal thoughts, who feel “intensely tortured and can not see any way out of their situation, can benefit from supportive therapeutic relationships, medications, and getting support from family and friends who can push them into getting professional help,” she says.

Shea calls on Congress and Rhode Island state lawmakers to positively respond to the William’s suicide by providing increased funding to create access to treatment and prevention programs and to support mental health research.

Finally, Shea says that there are a number of tell-tale signs of a person expressing hopelessness who may be thinking of ending their life. They include statements made by someone that others are better off if he or she were not around; excessive use of alcohol and/or drugs; not taking care of yourself; and giving away personal items. When these occur, talk to the person telling them that you care about them and are concerned for their well-being.

Adds Melinda Kulish, Ph.D., a Clinical Psychologist/Clinical Neuropsychologist and Instructor of Psychology at Harvard Medical School, “There are also times when depression is not easily recognizable. Some people who are depressed experience it most acutely when by themselves but can appear fine, even quite happy, when they are with other people.”

Kulish explains that, for various reasons, some people feel the need to make others happy. Cheering others up or making others laugh makes them also feel happy.

“But, if that person is suffering from depression, the happiness is fleeting – the laughter ends and they once again feel empty and sad. The cheering up of others is a fix that is OUTSIDE, not inside of them.

“And drugs and alcohol can make them feel better for a time. The high always ends, and when alone, they feel empty and even more depressed,” says Kulish. “There’s really good research to suggest that talking about traumatic and upsetting events leads to much healthier responses. The old idea, ‘I’m just not going to talk about it so it’ll go away’ doesn’t work.”

“It’s a myth that if you ask a person if they are suicidal you will put that idea in their heads,” says Shea.

Feeling Low, a Place to Call

When this happens, “feeling low with nowhere to turn” as noted singer songwriter Bill Withers once said in a public service announcement, there is a place to call – The Samaritans of Rhode Island – where trained volunteers “are there to listen.” Incorporated in 1977, the Pawtucket-based nonprofit program is dedicated to reducing the occurrence of suicide by befriending the desperate and lonely throughout the state’s 39 cities and towns.

Since the inception, The Samaritans has received more than 500,000 calls and trained more 1,380 volunteers to answer its confidential and anonymous Hotline/Listening Lines.

With the first Samaritan branch started in England in 1953, chapters can now be found in more than 40 countries of the world. “Samaritans, can I help you?” is quietly spoken into the phone across the world in a multilingual chorus of voices,” notes its website.

Executive Director Panichas, notes that the communication-based program teaches volunteers to effectively listen to people who are in crisis. Conversations are free, confidential and, most importantly, anonymous.

A rigorous 21-hour training program teaches volunteers to listen to callers without expressing personal judgments or opinions. Panichas said that the listening techniques called “befriending,” calls for 90 percent listening and 10 percent talking. Panichas noted The Samaritans of Rhode Island Listening Line is also a much needed resources for caregivers and older Rhode Islanders.

Other services include a peer-to-peer grief Safe Place Support Group for those left behind by suicide as well as community education programs.

In 2014, The Samaritans of Rhode Island received more than 4,000 calls and hosted more than 50,000 visitors to its website.

The Samaritans of Rhode Island can be the gateway to care or a “compassionate nonjudgmental voice on the other end of the line,” Panichas notes. “It doesn’t matter what your problem is, be it depression, suicidal thoughts, seeking resources for mental health services in the community or being lonely or just needing to talk, our volunteers are there to listen.”

For persons interested in more information about suicide emergencies, The Samaritans website,http://www.samaritansri.org, has an emergency checklist as well as information by city and town including Blackstone Valley communities from Pawtucket to Woonsocket.

For those seeking to financially support the programs of The Samaritans of Rhode Island, its Art Gallery and Education Center is available to rent for special events, meetings and other types of occasions. For information on gallery rental, call the Samaritans business line at 401-721-5220; or go tohttp://www.samaritansri.org.

Need to Talk? Call a volunteer at The Samaritans. Call 401.272.4044 or toll-free in RI (1-800) 365-4044.

For mental health resources, go to http://www.butler.org.

Herb Weiss, LRI ’12 is a Pawtucket-based freelance writer who covers health care, aging, and medical issues. He can be contacted at hweissri@aol.com.

Documentary Takes a Look at Speed Dating for Seniors

Published in Pawtucket Times, August 9, 2014

Three years ago, a personal story would lead filmmaker Steven Loring to zero in on a topic for his MFA thesis film while studying at the Social Documentary Film Program in NYC’s School of Visual Arts. His thesis ultimately grew into a 78-minute documentary, “The Age of Love,” which follows the adventures of 30 seniors who sign up for a speed dating event exclusively for 70- to 90-year-olds. The film premieres at the Rhode Island International Film Festival, Sunday, August 10, at 12:15 p.m. at the Paff Theatre at URI, 80 Washington Street, Providence. And there’s a special offer for anyone who comes to the box office with a date: When you buy one ticket, your date gets in FREE! Any date! Any age!

The story took shape after the passing away of Loring’s father in 2008 left his still-vibrant mother alone after being married to her soul mate for nearly half a century. At that same time, his 80-year old uncle, who’d never even dated, to Loring’s amazement suddenly fell madly in love with an 80-year-old woman, both acting like love-struck teenagers.

“It was like they were in high school again,” Loring says, noting that the couple walked around holding hands and that he even found their bedroom door shut when he visited.

These events pushed the Brooklyn-based filmmaker to take a look at relationships in one’s later years. His research efforts revealed that the nation’s media had neglected issues involving seniors’ emotional and intimate needs. On the internet, he found that speed dating for seniors was a newly emerging trend which had occurred in a few communities in Florida and Colorado. Ultimately, a speed dating event in Rochester, New York would give him the perfect place to explore and document and come away with new insights into the issue.

Loring’s efforts to reconcile two dynamically opposite life experiences, losing a long-term intimate relationship and suddenly finding one at an advanced age, led the graduate student to finally formulate this thesis question, “Do decades of life and loss constrict our hearts, or might time develop them in unexpected ways,” That’s the question the 51-year-old filmmaker attempts to answer in his film project.

Speed Dating for Seniors

Loring’s documentary, a winner of the 2013 Paley Center DocFest Pitch Competition and recently awarded a prestigious Fledgling Fund social engagement grant, follows the amusing and emotional adventures of the seniors who signed up for the Rochester speed dating event, which was organized by a ‘healthy aging’ coalition to bring new social opportunities to the older community. The trendy matchmaking process allowed these individuals to meet for a brief five minutes. When the time was up the organizer sounded a bell, signaling participants to move on to the next table. Each kept a tally of those they would like to contact later. If both parties were interested in each other, a follow up date would occur.

According to Loring, as a result of the heavy promotion of this unique event, combined with the intense local media buzz, “dozens of area seniors called to register, all willing to put themselves out there, to take stock of their aging bodies and still-hopeful hearts.”

“The film takes viewers where no documentary has gone before – directly into the lives of older singles who still yearn to be seen and understood, who still desire another’s touch, who seek a new chance of love,” says Loring. Unlike other recent documentaries exploring issues of aging, the film maker saw an “opportunity to break social and generational barriers by looking at the older participants not in terms of singular talents or specific communities, but through shared, human desires.”

For three months, Loring filmed without a crew. He was able to easily develop personal relationships with the senior speed daters “allowing candid stories to emerge by following their everyday routines,” he says.
Looking to Find That Perfect Match

Loring notes that some participants came seeking simple companionship, while others came looking for that special mate. Among the speed daters who appear in the film: An 81-year-old bodybuilding champ, divorced since his fifties, who still believes new love is possible; a skydiving widow who dulls her loss by pursuing younger men; a grandmother and online-dating addict searching the web for Mr. Right; a romantic 79-year-old who discards his portable oxygen for a sunset tango on the beach, a 1940s movie fanatic who escaped an abusive marriage, yet still seeks her ‘Fred and Ginger’ romance.

Janice Ledtke, 78, a resident of Webster, New York, a suburb of Rochester, remembers making the decision to participate in speed dating. After 38 years of being single following her divorce in 1976, she jumped at the chance to meet new people. “What did I have to lose,” says Ledtike, a former property management employee, who met dates over the years at singles groups or through being fixed up by friends.

“You never know who you just might meet,” remembers Ledtike, noting when her friends found out about her participation in the speed dating event and documentary, “they thought I was crazy, but it’s just another one of my adventures.”

Ledtke says she met a variety of personalities at the speed dating event. But her follow up dates with a film maker, a retired professor and an owner of a small insurance company went nowhere. “I was not necessarily looking to find the love of my life, but if it happened, it happened,” she adds, stressing that it was not the end of the world because she came away with a number of new friends.

Linda Sorrendino, 72, had many long-term relationships since her 1973 divorce. “I have many diamonds to prove this,” quips the resident of Victor, New York. Over the years, like Ledtke, she would meet people by attending singles groups or through friends.

Learning from a friend about the speed dating event, Sorrendino, a retired office clerk, immediately signed up. “You just never know. As to landing a relationship, “you just go with the flow,” she remarks.

As Sorrendino reflects on her speed dating experience and her late life relationships, she notes, “I don’t want to be with a decrepit old man, but I also don’t want to be with somebody a lot younger who looks better that I do and feels like he’s with an old lady.”

A Final Thought…

“The film’s message is so positive and encouraging,” said AARP Rhode Island State Director Kathleen Connell. “Watching these folks surely will make it easier for others to re-enter the dating scene. At the same time, there is a subtext that is very important: No one featured in the documentary seems desperate. Each has found a way to move on from divorce or loss of a spouse or partner. Will they find their storybook ending? I think the film makes it clear that there are no promises. But there’s a strong message that giving love another chance is not so intimidating – especially if you find some an organized group that puts you among people of similar age and circumstance.”

The documentary also will reveal to its broader audience that the desire for companionship and intimacy does not evaporate at some advanced specific age,” Connell added. “These feelings are not always easy for people to discuss with their children or grandchildren. Its great people get to see these folks take part in the speed-dating experience because in the accompanying interviews they reveal hopes and fears many hold inside. But I love the takeaway: ‘If something happens, that’s great. If not, I’ll still be okay.’”

Loring plans to work with AARP and other ‘healthy aging’ organizations across the country to bring older adults together in 25 cities next year at senior speed dating events. For more information go to theAgeofLoveMovie.com or email steven@theAgeofLoveMovie.com

Herb Weiss, LRI ’12, is a Pawtucket writer covering aging, health care and medical issues. He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.

Overnight Vacations Popular with Aging Baby Boomers

Published in Pawtucket Times, August 1, 2014

As the nation slowly emerges from a severe economic downturn along with gas prices rising, a new AARP Bulletin Survey delves into travel planning of vacationing boomers. A phone survey, statistically sampling 76 million baby boomers sought, to shed light on their views on overnight vacations, specifically, trips taken away from home that usually lasted one night or longer.

According to the May 2014 report, “Boomers and Vacations: An AARP Bulletin Survey,” over 57 percent of the nation’s boomers say they are planning to take an overnight vacation in the next 12 months. Among those planning this overnight vacation, seven-in-ten (68%) responded they may take more than one overnight trip, while three-in-ten (29%) reported they are just planning to make one overnight excursion.

Getting Away for Short Vacations

The 19 page AARP report noted that almost half of those surveyed (47%), who are planning overnight vacations in the next 12 months, are planning one or two week vacations, while just one-third (34%) are planning to take longer trips, lasting over two weeks.

Overnight vacations can hit boomer vacationer’s right in their wallets, indicate the AARP report’s findings, with survey respondents noting they will budget a minimal of $1,000, up to a whopping $5,000 for an overnight vacation outing. The majority of those surveyed (56%) say that they plan to travel with their spouse or partner, 15 percent plan traveling with their child or children. Meanwhile, seventeen percent say they will go it alone. .

While two-thirds (64%) of vacationing boomers say they will travel to another state within the United States, twenty percent will travel throughout their home state, noted the AARP report. However, 19 percent of survey respondents say they will book vacations outside of the country, with Europe being found to be the most popular destination (38%) followed by Latin or South America (21%), Caribbean (13%), and Canada (10%).

As to motives taking overnight vacations, most respondents say “to see, connect, or spend time with family and/or friends (45%), or “for a pure fun, or relaxation (38%).

Balancing Work and Play

The AARP findings suggest that Boomers are active and looking for ways enjoy life,” Rhode Island State Director Kathleen Connell said. “We all know that staying active is important for both physical and mental health as we age. If this is a trend, I hope it builds and I think it will,” she says, noting that one of the reasons will be that AARP motivates people to be maintain active lifestyles – whether it’s an extended vacation or a day trip to a nearby attraction.

Connell believes that as boomers decide to work longer for the purpose of retirement security, they also realize that as they work longer and harder they have earned a break. “Working longer allows people to delay dipping into retirement savings. Many say that if that’s your plan, you actually can and should reward yourself and take that vacation and return to work refreshed.” she says.

“As to those Boomers who have ‘retired,’ I shouldn’t have to tell you that AARP encourages those people to get out and enjoy life,” says Connell.

“The AARP study certainly reinforces the fact that Boomers have a significant amount of discretionary income and that they are an important part of the economy. If the Boomers stayed home, the tourism industry would be is big trouble,” she observes.

Connell states that “Rhode Island is a great destination for people of all ages and I am sure that the local tourism promoters are aware of that. It’s very competitive out there when it comes to capturing Boomers, so the good news is that even attractive destinations such as Rhode Island offer travel discounts and incentives. People should take advantage, and I imagine the AARP survey reflects some of these opportunities to save, too.”

Rhode Island Tourism Officials Have Their Say

Carl G Richardson, Director, Branch Office Sales & Service, of AAA Southern New England, cites similarities in AARP’s report findings from his personal experiences in the travel industry. Just like the findings that 15% of Boomers are traveling with their child or children, “we’re seeing our members traveling with their grandchildren as well.”

Another finding as to the reason for travel also jumps out for Richardson. “When we conduct our Holiday Travel forecasts we see “visiting family or friends” as the number one reason members travel 50 miles or more away from home. AARP’s findings supports that point,” he says.

Mark Brodeur, Rhode Island’s Tourism Director with Commerce RI, sees boomers as a generation driving tourism to the Ocean State for more than three decades.

As the state’s main sales person and a boomer, Brodeur understand this demographic group, especially their buying power associated with them. “American Express Travel insights indicated that more than 50% of Rhode Island overnight visitors are 50 and above,” he says.

“Boomers are foodies where Rhode island’s varied and celebrated culinary scene fits right in with this demographics interest, says Brodeur, noting that they want fresh, farm or ocean to table creations in a unique atmosphere. “Rhode Island offers some for the country’s best food and foodie experiences. Walking tours, culinary museum, cooking classes, wine, brews and now distilled lavations,” he says…

Brodeur adds, “The boomer is active; walking, cycling, swimming, sailing, tennis. Whether you’re offshore or landside, Rhode Island offers the perfect soft adventure. He observes that the boomer generation is considered lifelong learners; they’re curious, very educated and intellectual. “Rhode Island is a classroom with Colonial to gilded age, industrial to pristine and natural. Audubon, art museums, historic societies and attractions offer educational experiences that are world class,” he says.

Robert Billington, President, of the Pawtucket-based Blackstone Valley Tourism Council, is a firm believer of overnight vacations, experimenting with the idea of seeing providing trips for Rhode Islanders in their home state. Over a decade ago, the Central Falls resident developed a tour, “Tour Rhode Island, There’s No Place Like Home,” one that attracted the attention of Boomers and seniors. “Over 1,200 persons returned, year after year, traveling to sites throughout the Ocean State in 24 motor coaches,” he says.

The tour gave Rhode Islander’s a chance to personally visit places in their home state they never saw, state’s Billington. “Our state has so much to offer visitors and even more to offer its residents but sometimes you have to be shown the beauty in your own back yard,” he adds.

Billington says, for Rhode Island Boomers, especially those outside of the state, the greatest thing Rhode Island offers to vacationers is its size. “You can enjoy the best of America within a1, 240 square miles drive…”

Planning Your Overnight Getaway

AARP’s newest tool to plan your overnight getaways (travel.aarp.org/weekend-getaways), includes itineraries curated by Fodor’s Travel. The collection recommends local escapes less than three hours from home, including where to eat, shop, and stay, from popular cities including Denver, Washington, D.C. and more locations nationwide.

As detailed in a recent release, AARP Travel’s range of travel tools and features include:

● Trip Finder — a fun, smart and visual series of questions to deliver ideas and recommendations for destinations — including some unexpected ones;

● Map Explorer — a detailed street-level interactive map that includes attractions, restaurants, hotels, local color and reviews for each destination;

● My Trips — a personal page where users can save and organize trip ideas, itineraries and related articles in one place and add to or edit them over multiple visits;

● Articles and Destinations — travel tips from AARP Travel Ambassador Samantha Brown, articles specifically geared toward the 50+ traveler and information about hundreds of domestic and international locations; and

● Book Trips — booking tools provided through AARP’s relationships with
Expedia and Liberty Travel and directly to hotels, and rental cars.

Data for AARP’s “Boomers” and Vacation Plan survey were gathered by a random-digit dial telephone omnibus survey fielded March 5-March 30, 2014, using a national representative sample of 1,410 respondents ages 49 to 67 (Boomers). Of those, a total of 907 respondents are under age 60 and a total of 461 are age 60+, and 42 respondents refused to report their actual age.

Herb Weiss, LRI ’12, is a Pawtucket-based writer covering aging, health care and medical issues. He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.

Tennis and Your Later Years

Published in Pawtucket Times, July 25, 2014

Like bacon and eggs, AARP Rhode Island hopes to make tennis synonymous with AARP’s Life Reimagined initiative.  On Friday, July 11, Rhode Island’s largest aging advocacy group firmly tied its national initiative to the International Tennis Hall of Fame & Museum, seeing an immediate opportunity to be associated with one of the world’s most high-profile tennis events, one that matched its age 50 plus membership demographic.  The new relationship provided a unique opportunity for the Providence-based group to get the word out about its legislative advocacy and grassroots community work.

This July, AARP Rhode Island unveiled its sponsorship with the Hall of Fame Tennis Championships which drew 22,500 tennis fans from across the country to the International Tennis Hall of Fame & Museum in Newport, Rhode Island.  A live telecast of the tennis matches and the tennis organization’s Hall of Fame enshrinement ceremony, which honors the best of  the tennis world, was beamed to millions around the tennis world on The Tennis Channel.  AARP’s sponsorship include center-court signage at 30-second spots on this channel.

“When we heard that tennis is promoted as ‘the sport of a lifetime’ we knew we were on the same wavelength,” noted AARP State Director Kathleen Connell, who stressed “AARP is all about providing resources for a lifetime.”

Anne Marie McLaughlin, Director of Marketing at the International Tennis Hall of Fame & Museum, agrees with Connell’s keen assessment.  “Tennis is very much in sync with AARP’s Life Reimagined program.   Perhaps people are seeking new ways to connect with friends once they’ve  become empty nesters, or a new hobby to keep them active and healthy.  Tennis can provide so many benefits in these areas, and it’s a great activity for people who are looking to reimagine and explore their life.”

“We’re proud to partner with AARP Rhode Island to showcase the game’s many physical, social, and mental benefits to their members,” says McLaughlin who agrees with Connell’s take that tennis is a sport of a lifetime.  “It can be played and enjoyed by a 5-year-old or a 95-year-old and we are very excited to  partner with AARP Rhode Island to engage, and inspire their members,” she says.

“But, Connell warns that “You cannot generalize about the athletic abilities of people over 50, noting that demanding sports such as marathons, and distance swimming attract athletes in their 60s, 70s. 80s. and even older.  Tennis is a great sport for people over 50 because you can play at your own level with players of similar skill.  To live longer and remain healthy we know that being and staying active is critical.  AARP encourages people to find a sport or activity that can provide life-enhancing benefits, both physical and mental,” added the Middletown resident.

Creating New Opportunities in Your Later Years

As a sport, tennis is a great fit for people looking to reimagine their life after 40.  “Whether it’s a job transition, career change, starting a dream business, adapting to being an empty nester or making the switch to a retirement lifestyle, AARP Life Reimagined provides online assessment tools, guidance and resources to help people explore new opportunities, identify adaptable skills and set new goals,” Connell explained.

Connell says Life Reimagined.org is the go-to web address for feeling good about aging. “It’s about you and what you want to accomplish,” she says, noting that it helps put AARP’s “Real Possibilities” into action.

According to Connell, AARP is no longer an organization for older people, but one for all people who want the best out of life, regardless of their age.  Many AARP members are still working and do not plan to retire, others leave their jobs seeking new challenges or even establishing new businesses, she explains.

Over a year ago, AARP launched Life Reimaged, a free program designed to help 76 million Boomers easily navigate into new life experiences or reboot their professional lives into different directions.  For the sixties generation, continuing to work a full-time job, or even coasting into retirement is no longer an acceptable option.  But, AARP stressed that reinventing oneself is the way to go in your later stages of life.

The Life Reimaged website provides tools to help you make key decisions for your next direction and detailed resources to guide you through that journey, says Connell.  “Whether your career has hit an unexpected bump in your 50s, or you are looking to start your own business or head down a new path into retirement, AARP can help,” she said.

At the Hall of Fame Tennis Championships

AARP staff and over 50 volunteers were on hand at the Hall of Fame Tennis Championships from Monday, July 7 through the tournament finals on Sunday, July 13.  Being stationed at an AARP Life Reimagined booth, these individuals answered questions and distributed copies of AARP Magazine and other materials.  On Friday, July 11, (at AARP Day) Connell announced a new AARP membership benefit — a year-round discounted AARP member rate of $8 (instead of the standard $13 rate) for admission into the International Tennis Hall of Fame & Museum.  The organization’s museum is open daily and also offers special events including film and music.  Year-round tennis programming, including lessons and group play on the historic green courts are available, too.

Activities for AARP Day included a free 50+ tennis clinic led by legendary tennis coach and newly inducted Hall of Famer, Nick Bollettieri, followed by a book signing and Q&A session (see Bollettieri in action on AARP Rhode Island’s YouTube Channel, http://www.youtube.com/aarpri).  That day, over 70 people attended an-hour long panel discussion in air-conditioned comfort of the Casino Theatre at the Hall of Fame, about AARP’s Life Reimagined initiative.

At the Friday panel, Connell noted that “It was a real treat for fans to get a chance to hear Hall of Famers Nick Bollettieri, 82, (Class of 2014) and Owen Davidson, 71 (Class of 2010) talk about their careers.  AARP volunteer, Charles Dress, 76, of Warwick, also shared his thoughts about how tennis has played an important role in his later years, after retiring from a full-time career,”
said Connell.  The panelist all agreed that tennis was “a natural outlet for the life-long learners who want to work hard at improving their skills and staying mentally sharp.”

Meanwhile, at Friday’s tennis clinic Bollettieri, stressed to those attending, “age is only a number.”  Connell noted that this is in line with the messaging of AARP.  “His enshrinement into the Hall of Fame is fitting not only because of his place as the coach of some many tennis champions, but also because he is a magnificent ambassador for the game.  He inspires people with his energy and enthusiasm.  We were thrilled that he made his way to our tent to join AARP,” she says.

McLaughlin added that Bollettieri is “an amazing example of what Life Reimagined can represent.  At 82 years of age, Nick is still on court 6 days a wee for 10 hours a day…and likely on the golf course the 7th day.  He’s living proof that it’s possible and very positive, for someone to stay physically active in older years.  With this physical activity come great social and mental benefits as well.”

Before the Hall of Fame Enshrinement Ceremony, Bollettieri gave this columnist a few pointers on living life in your later years.  “Stay active and never, never, never, use the word retire,” he says, warning that once the word enters your vocabulary, you begin to decline.

Buying into AARP’s Life Reimagined initiative, Bollettieri advices, “Don’t retire, just change professions.”

Check This Out…

On September 4 and 5, AARP Rhode Island will host two free Life Reimagined “Checkups” at its Providence headquarters.  A Life Reimagined leader will facilitate the three-hour workshop that familiarizes people with the available Life Reimagined tools and resources.  These sessions include small-group exercise for people looking to make changes in their career direction or hoping to reinvent themselves in retirement.  The first session will be in the evening, the second session in the morning.  Register online at aarp.org/ri or call 401-248-2671.

For more information about the International Tennis Hall of Fame & Museum go to http://www.tennisfame. com.

Herb Weiss, LRI ’12, is a Pawtucket-based writer who covers aging, health care and medical issues.  He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.

 

 

 

Olon Reeder’s Fix for an Ailing State Economy

Published on RIfutures.org, July 18, 2014

Olon Reeder, a slight-figured, unassuming, behind-the-scenes kinda guy, has been quietly improving the quality of life in northern Rhode Island for decades as a public affair adviser for the Blackstone Valley Tourism Council.  With his years of working in the public sector, as legislative assistant with the Rhode Island General Assembly in the mid-to-late 1970s, with the Garrahy administration, state agencies and with small businesses, he’s authored a nontraditional economic development policy paper he hopes will be considered in next year’s Rhode Island General Assembly debate as to how to create a more vibrant business environment in the Ocean State.

Over the years, Reeder, President of Reeder Associates, a Southern New England-based public relations and multi-media communications company, has seen state lawmakers and its economic development agency attempt to compete with surrounding states, just going after “larger, trendy, projects to turn the economy around. “Smaller companies would always get the short end of the stick, because they were not seen as a viable economic generator,” he says, stressing that this perception is inaccurate.

In recent years economic development solutions to fix the state’s ailing economy have been floated for public debate by lawmakers, economic development professionals or by large corporations. Today, Reeder, with almost 40 years of in the public and private sectors, calls on state lawmakers to consider his proposal when they focus on economic reform in next year’s session. More needs to be done, says the small businessperson who is a Native Rhode islander.

It’s almost like Mr. Reeder goes to Smith Hill, to take on the establishment to be heard.

“We are at a critical crossroads where we must overcome our negatives attitudes and start taking actions ourselves if we all want our state and our lives to become successful,” Reeder wrote in a recently released policy statement detailing his suggested economic development action agenda, as how to improve the state’s long term quality of life, through investing in people, communities and small businesses.

He calls for tying lifelong education to grow the economy. “Brain power is a key element driving worldwide demands and economic activity today, through the convergence of non stop knowledge, creative economy, enterprise and innovation, art-design connections, which all start with lifelong learning,” he says.

He says personal empowerment creates the environment for change “Empowerment encourages, and develops the skills for, self-sufficiency, giving people the abilities and knowledge that will allow them to overcome obstacles in life or work environment and ultimately, help them develop within themselves or in the society,” he says.

Companies are constantly replacing full-time employees, he said, and now relying upon independent contractors, where people who once counted on a steady pay check are now being left to fend for themselves in a hyper-competitive self-employed market. These individuals are oftentimes forgotten by policy makers.

Based on 2011 figures from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, in Rhode Island, there re over 73 thousand self-employed contributing over $3 billion annually to the state’s economy. Most self-employed are hired out of necessity, are done so locally and through word of mouth. Because freelancers depend so much on self promotion to get their jobs, they must focus on the local markets, along with showcasing their diverse personal talents, marketing their skills to business owners in their community, along trying to compete with others for opportunities.

Reeder recognizes the importance of valuing our places, spaces and communities, to grow business. “More than ever, people must be connected to where we live, work, play, stay and travel. People expect places and spaces they interact with daily to be vibrant, active, socially appealing, culturally stimulating and help them in improving their quality of life, especially with their physical and mental health,” he says.

Reeder notes active living communities provide opportunities for people of all ages and abilities to engage in routine daily physical activity, he says, like pedestrian and bicycle friendly design, access to intermodal transportation, mixed use development, ample recreation, walkable neighborhoods, access to fresh and healthy foods and commerce centers. This philosophy must be included in any state economic development plan.

“Our economic revitalization is relevant to healthy and sustainable communities because active living communities encourage individuals to be more physically active, improving health by lowering citizens’ risk for health conditions, adds Reeder. “Active living communities create enhance quality of life, attract business and knowledge workers, and contribute to ongoing economic development,” he says.

Reeder stresses that technology is a must, as people are now “required” to have 24/7 365 access to the Internet and must now communicate through social media to live, work, and transact personal activity, he calls for providing everyone with free online access “as a necessity of our 21st century lifestyles.”  Finally, Reeder thinks “Demand Driven Experiences” are necessary for not only reinventing our state’s manufacturing, but in changing our self attitudes about how Rhode Islanders see themselves, ultimately affecting expectations others may have about the perception of Rhode Island as the worst place for business.

“Because people no longer buy things for their personal benefit, they want enhancements to fulfill missing elements of their lives,” adds Reeder, noting that experiences are crucial for businesses and locations as a branding and marketing tool, especially with efforts in Rhode Island attracting people to live and travel here for our entertainment, food and lifestyles.”  “Using our experiences to effectively promote market and give an iconic brand, we must also stay true to the “real Rhode Island,” to our proud independent and working class heritage, the ethnic and cultural diversity in our state, and preserving our unique natural resources,” he says.
State lawmakers are moving in the right direction to make Rhode Island a more business-friendly place to operate. Reeder continues his efforts to get his voice heard by General Assembly leadership, state policy makers, business groups, even gubernatorial candidates. Hopefully, they will choose to closely listen to Reeder’s nontraditional approach to economic development and to small business owners who know their specific needs to operate successfully.

- See more at: http://www.rifuture.org/olon-reeders-fix-for-the-states-ailing-economy.html#sthash.86LrWZAH.dpuf

Herb Weiss, “LRI ’12, is a Pawtucket-writer covering aging, health care, medical, and business issues.  He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.

 

 

Being Vigilant Keeps Phone Scammers Away

Published in Pawtucket Times, July 18, 2014

When 81-year-old Cincinnati resident Roger W. answered a call in December, he thought it was his grandson on the other end of the phone. The young voice said, Grandpa, this you’re your favorite grandson,” he remembered, replying, “I have six grandsons and they are all my favorites.” Claiming to be the oldest, the “grandson” said he had been arrested for speeding and drug possession and urgently needed money for bail. He then turned the call over to a person claiming to be a police officer. Convinced their eldest grandson needed help, Roger W. and his wife headed to a local retail store to purchase a money-order card to cover the cost of bail.

After sending a total of $7,000 to the supposed police officer, the elderly couple soon discovered they had been conned out of their hard-earned money after reaching their real grandson on his cell phone. They are among an untold number of older Americans who have fallen victim to a commonly used scam known as the “grandparent scam” that experts say is again making a comeback across the nation.

Senate Aging Hearing Puts the Spotlight on Phone Scams

Roger W., who has requested anonymity to avoid becoming a target of other con-artists, testified two days ago at a hearing of the U..S. Senate Special Committee on Aging held at the Senate Dirksen building. The hearing examined the recent rise in imposter scams, particularly the grandparent scam.

Along with Roger W., witnesses at the July 16th hearing included officials from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the United States Telecom Association, who discussed potential solutions to protecting consumers and curbing phone scams.

According to the FTC, Americans lost more than $73 million to impostor scams in 2013. While the federal agency admits the figure is under reported, accounting for only a fraction of the problem because most victims fail to report the crime, instances of imposter scams have doubled between 2009 and 2013. Senators Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Susan Collins (R-ME), the committee’s chairman and ranking member, called for this hearing after receiving a large number of complaints from victims through the committee’s fraud hotline. The two lawmakers said they’re hoping the hearing will help identify potential solutions to help law enforcement to better detect and prosecute such crimes, as well as encourage retailers and phone companies to do their part to protect consumers.

Phone Scams Commonly Reported in Rhode Island

According to the Rhode Island Office of the Attorney General, the Ocean State is not immune to the financial scam, described at the recent Senate Aging hearing by Roger W. There are slight variations of the “grandparent scam” story where con artists pretend to be a family member and claim they need money to fix a car, get out of jail or leave a foreign country. They will beg you to wire money right away and keep the information confidential. In some cases, the scammers even know the names of family members. In other instances, the person on the other end of the line may pretend to be a police officer or friend calling on behalf of the grandchild.

In 2013, the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Unit responded to 6,229 telephone calls, 1,144 written complaints, 1,534 email inquiries and 74 walk-ins. While the Consumer Protection Unit does not keep statistics on each scam that is reported, the grandparent scam is no stranger to the employees

“We see a spike in these types of scams during times when a grandchild might be on vacation, like school break or summers, making the story more believable to the person on the other end of the phone,” said Attorney General Peter Kilmartin. The Attorney General’s Office includes a Consumer Protection Unit, which, among other responsibilities, warns the public about such scams and educates consumers on how to protect themselves from being a victim of a scam, he says.

Kilmartin observes that “Con artists have turned fraud into a multi-billion dollar business. Each year, thousands of consumers lose anywhere from a few dollars to their life savings to scams. Once the money is gone, it is very difficult, if not impossible, to recover your funds,” he notes.

There are big hurdles law enforcement must overcome to catch the scammer who is behind these cons. If a scam originated out of the state, or even out of the country, it is often beyond the reach of local or state law enforcement officials, adds Kilmartin. . Complicating matters is technology, he says, noting that long gone are the days when people’s locations could be easily identified and tracked by their phone number. With cellular technology, pre-paid cell phones and “spoofing” apps, a person may be running their con from a foreign country while your caller ID shows an in-state phone number, he says.

AG’s Top Priority to Protect Consumers Against Fraud and Scams

“As Attorney General, it is one of my top priorities to protect all consumers from fraud and scams. Consumer protection is largely self protection. Becoming a smart and savvy consumer does not mean changing your daily routine — it means becoming more aware of how to avoid becoming a victim. As the saying goes, knowledge is power. It is  my belief that consumers and businesses can better protect themselves and their assets if they are aware of their rights and are aware of the fraudulent or deceptive practices scammers use,” said Kilmartin.

Tammy Miller, Director of the Consumer Protection Unit, said the reason that scamming older persons is so prevalent is because it works. “Sadly, con artists prey on older people because they tend to be more trusting. Once the money is wired, it’s gone forever, and it’s only then people realize they have been a victim of the scam. Because these outfits operate outside the state, and often outside the country, there is little law enforcement can do to track them down,” she says.

According to Miller, Attorney General Kilmartin has made educating consumers a priority. As such, members of the Consumer Protection Unit provide approximately 150 outreach presentations each year to senior centers, community groups and organizations throughout the state in an effort to educate and protect Rhode Islanders from scam artists.

In addition, several consumer alerts/advisories are issued annually. The advisories cover a wide range of topics such as fake invoices, phishing scams, a fake jury duty and arrest scam, a “car wrap” scam, possible scams related to sporting events, consumer settlements and holiday shopping tips.

“Although it is very difficult to measure, I believe our consumer outreach program has made a difference in lowering the number of victims of scams in Rhode Island. A good indicator is the increase in phone calls we receive from consumers alerting us whenever a scam pops up, which gives us a chance to get ahead of it, issue an alert and warn other consumers. I think that’s a positive sign that we are making headway and creating confident and well informed consumers,” said Miller.

Miller says that Kilmartin has done a terrific job as Attorney General in making the public aware of scams that are going around the state, which reduces the chances of someone else becoming a victim.”

Quick Actions to Protect Yourself Against Phone Scams

So, what do you do if you receive a phone call from someone pretending to be a family member in need? Miller recommends that you first verify that it is your grandchild. Always ask for a phone number of the person on the other line. Before calling them back or wiring them money, contact the family member directly. If you cannot get a hold of them, contact their parents or another family member to confirm their location.

Miller warns older persons to resist the intense pressure to send money quickly and secretly. Refuse to send money through wire transfer or overnight delivery. After you’ve thwarted the scam, Tammy Miller suggests you let your local police and the Consumer Protection Unit know about the call. Alerting the Attorney General’s Office will allow them to alert the public that the scam is making the rounds and what to be on the lookout for.

To report a consumer-related issue, to speak with a consumer protection specialist at the Attorney General’s Office, or to schedule a consumer protection specialist to speak before your community group or organization, call 401-274-4400, send an email at contactus@riag.ri.gov, or visit http://www.riag.ri.gov.

To watch the Senate U.S. Special Committee on Aging hearing and to access witness testimony, go to http://www.aging.senate.gov/hearings/-hanging-up-on-phone-scams-progress-and-potential-solutions-to-this-scourge.

Herb Weiss, LRI ’12, is a Pawtucket-based writer covering aging, health care and medical issues. He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.

 

 

Olon Reeder’s Fix for the State’s Ailing Economy

Published in Pawtucket Times, July 11, 2014

As the 2014 General Assembly session ended, CNBC released its annual Top States for Business rankings. It was not good news for the Ocean State. According to the report’s findings, Rhode Island finished last among the 50 states for the third time in the last four years. States were ranked in these 10 categories: cost of doing business, economy, infrastructure, workforce, quality of life, technology and innovation, business friendliness, education, cost of living and access to capital.

After the release of the scathing report, CNBC senior correspondent Scott Cohn caught up with Governor Chafee in Chicago, attending a regional Democratic Governors Association conference, who gave his thoughts to the report’s outcome. Rhode Island was on an upswing with the state putting funding into education, infrastructure and workforce development.

Reviving Up the State’s Economic Engine

Yes, as Chafee noted, a Rhode Island Senate staffer says that economic development was a priority on Smith Hill this year.

Gregg Parė, the chamber’s Director of Communication, says state lawmakers agreed with Chafee’s positive assessment of the progress made to make the state more competitive. “Many important components of the Senate’s Rhode to Work action plan to improve the skills of the existing workforce as well as the workforce of tomorrow were passed by the Assembly,” he noted.

Paré notes a centerpiece of the Road to Work plan was placing responsibility for coordination of workforce development with the Governor’s Workforce Board. Legislation was passed to accomplish this, ensuring that Rhode Islanders can access the training programs they need in a timely and effective way, he said.

“Additionally, the Jobs Development Fund was exempted from “indirect cost recovery,” which had directed a portion of the employer funded program for workforce development to the state. This provides an additional $1.2 million for worker training programs,” adds Paré.

Paré detailed some educational reforms that were addressed by lawmakers this year. The Board of Education was directed to seek lower cost but equally effective high school equivalency tests to the GED, and to reinstate a hardship waiver of fees for low-income test takers. This removes a potential barrier for obtaining an equivalency which can open doors to employment opportunities,” he says. Enacted legislation also provided more time for those receiving cash assistance to undergo training programs, and to provide professional development for high school counselors to ensure they are helping students as they enter today’s workforce. Passed legislation also helps communities transition to full-day kindergarten, a proven, effective way to better prepare students for success in school.

Paré says the newly enacted budget invests in initiatives the Senate has worked on for years which will have long-term benefits for the economy. “The Senate’s 2013 Moving the Needle report recommended reducing the corporate tax, which the 2015 budget reduces from 9 percent to 7 percent. At the same time, it shifts the method of corporate tax assessment to a single sales factor, which removes a disincentive for investing in jobs and property in Rhode Island. The budget also eliminates the cliff on the estate tax, and increases the exemption to $1.5 million.”

Summing up the legislative session, Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed said: “The budget invests in Rhode Island’s future. The reduction of the corporate tax rate and increase in the estate tax threshold help to make Rhode Island more competitive. The transportation infrastructure fund invests in the state’s roads and bridges. Our many initiatives in the area of job training will help the state’s economy continue to move in the right direction. I’m very confident that those initiatives will help students coming out of schools seeking employment as well as the state’s older workforce which is seeking employment.”

We Have More Work to Do

But, while it may have been a banner your for economic development reforms, Olon Reeder, President of Reeder Associates, a Southern New England based independent public relations and multi-media communications practice, calls on Rhode Island’s lawmakers to continue their focus on economic reform in next year’s session. More needs to be done, says the small businessperson, former public official and former award-winning media personality.

With the State of Rhode Island coming up with a new comprehensive economic policy early next year, the North Providence resident recently released his suggested economic development action agenda, as how to improve the state’s long term quality of life, through investing in people, communities and small businesses.

“We are at a critical crossroads where we must overcome our negative self attitudes and start taking actions ourselves if we all want our state and our lives to become successful,” says Reeder.

In his economic platform, Reeder calls for tying lifelong education to economic growth. “Brain power is a key element driving worldwide demands and economic activity today, through the convergence of non stop knowledge, creative economy, enterprise and innovation, art-design connections, which all start with lifelong learning,” he says.

Reeder says personal empowerment creates the environment for change “Empowerment encourages, and develops the skills for, self-sufficiency, giving people the abilities and knowledge that will allow them to overcome obstacles in life or work environment and ultimately, help them develop within themselves or in the society,” he says.

Reeder observes that companies are constantly replacing full-time employees and now relying upon independent contractors, where people who once counted on a steady pay check are now being left to fend for themselves in a hyper-competitive self employed market.

Based on 2011 figures from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, in Rhode Island, there re over 73 thousand self-employed contributing over $3 billion annually to the state’s economy. Most self-employed are hired out of necessity, are done so locally and through word of mouth. Because freelancers depend so much on self promotion to get their jobs, they must focus on the local markets, along with showcasing their diverse personal talents, marketing their skills to business owners in their community, along trying to compete with others for opportunities.

Reeder recognizes the importance of valuing our places, spaces and communities. “More than ever, people must be connected to where we live, work, play, stay and travel. People expect places and spaces they interact with daily to be vibrant, active, socially appealing, culturally stimulating and help them in improving their quality of life, especially with their physical and mental health,” he says.

Reeder notes active living communities provide opportunities for people of all ages and abilities to engage in routine daily physical activity, he says, like pedestrian and bicycle friendly design, access to intermodal transportation, mixed use development, ample recreation, walkable neighborhoods, access to fresh and healthy foods and commerce centers.

“Our economic revitalization is relevant to healthy and sustainable communities because active living communities encourage individuals to be more physically active, improving health by lowering citizens’ risk for health conditions, adds Reeder. “Active living communities create enhance quality of life, attract business and knowledge workers, and contribute to ongoing economic development,” he says.

Reeder noted that technology is a must, as people are now “required” to have 24/7 365 access to the Internet and must now communicate through social media to live, work, and transact personal activity, he calls for providing everyone with free online access “as a necessity of our 21st century lifestyles.”

Finally, Reeder thinks “Demand Driven Experiences” are necessary for not only reinventing our state’s manufacturing, but in changing our self attitudes about how Rhode Islanders see themselves, ultimately affecting expectations others may have about the perception of Rhode Island as the worst place for business.

“Because people no longer buy things for their personal benefit, they want enhancements to fulfill missing elements of their lives,” adds Reeder, noting that experiences are crucial for businesses and locations as a branding and marketing tool, especially with efforts in Rhode Island attracting people to live and travel here for our entertainment, food and lifestyles.”

“Using our experiences to effectively promote market and give an iconic brand, we must also stay true to the “real Rhode Island,” to our proud independent and working class heritage, the ethnic and cultural diversity in our state, and preserving our unique natural resources,” he says.

State lawmakers must be commended for their successful efforts to slash regulation and enact laws to make Rhode Island a more business-friendly place to operate. At press time, Reeder, a Rhode Island native, whose family has been very prominent in Southern New England for over four generations in small business, real estate, building contracting and public service, continues his efforts to get his voice heard by General Assembly leadership, state policy makers, business groups, even gubernatorial candidates.

Hopefully, they will choose to closely listen to Reeder and others who may well hold the keys to fixing Rhode Island’s sluggish economy.

Herb Weiss, LRI ’12, is a writer who covers aging, health care, medical issues, and the economy. He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.